End of ‘no-fault’ evictions in the Private Rented Sector

In what is described as ‘a generational change’ to the lettings sector, Section 21 evictions, known as no fault evictions, will be abolished under plans to be put out to consultation.

The announcement came with no warning and despite considerable pressure from landlord organisations following last year’s consultation on longer tenancies who said that the move could be ‘devastating’ for the private rented sector.  It looked for a while last year as if the government would back away from such a radical step.

Evidence has been mounting that Section 21 evictions are the single biggest cause of homelessness in England, with the number of cases more than trebling from 4,580 to 16,320 between 2009 and 2017.

The move also forms part of an effort to redress the balance between tenant and landlord.  Rights for tenants to remain in a property were reduced in the 1988 Housing Act, which included Section 21, and tipped the power relationship in favour of the landlord.

To address landlords concerns about being able to end tenancies where they have legitimate reason to do so, plans include strengthening the Section 8 possession process and reforming the route to court. These will be in addition to the existing grounds which allow landlords to evict tenants who don’t pay the rent or commit anti-social behaviour.

Reaction to the announcement was welcomed as long overdue by tenant organisations but may be the final straw for some private landlords with the National Landlords Association warning that if this is not thought out in a way that provides balances for both sides “we guarantee there will be chaos.”

This announcement is the start of a longer process to introduce these reforms.  Consultation on the details of the system will be launched ‘shortly’ but it is not known when this will take place.

A consultation ‘shortly’ followed by the need for legislation implies the change is unlikely to happen this year.

There is much detail still be settled.  The government has said it will be collaborating with landlords, tenants and others in the private rented sector to develop a ‘new deal for renting’. Ministers have also said they will work with other housing providers outside of the private rented sector who use these powers and use the consultation to make sure the new system works effectively.

TV Licensing – Community Relations Team

The TV Licensing Community Relations team was set up to better interact with organisations that play a big part in their local communities. We are committed to making our information accessible to everyone in the community, and we work with a range of organisations such as housing, caring, money advice and multilingual groups to achieve this. As well as the services that I previously mentioned we also have a monthly newsletter for stakeholders called In Brief, which succinctly provides up-to date important info for stakeholders.

Over the last year we have been trialling a new payment plan for people who have previously struggled to pay for their tv licence. This is called The Simple Payment Plan and it offers a discounted initial payment, as well as not doubling up arrears if a payment is missed (as the current TV Licensing payment plans do). This means that the tv licence should no longer be a financial burden for people with money problems and thus far we’ve had great feedback from stakeholder’s that were involved with the trial.

The trial has now ended but over the next few months TV Licensing will be reviewing it with the hope of implementing it as a permanent payment method. A big part of the community relations team’s job with regards to this was engaging with stakeholders and people using the Simple Payment Plan to get as much feedback as possible. Ultimately, we are the means of communication between the community and BBC TV Licensing.

TV Licensing Community Relations can provide support in the following areas:
Support for local and national community organisation’s, including a telephone and email service to:

  1. -Order free literature in over 100 languages (including braille)
    -Updates from TV Licensing as required for your newsletter, website, social media or advisers’ internal briefing publications. For example, info on concessions, price changes and updates on the progress of the Simple Payment Plan.
  2. Helping stakeholders to understand the different ways people can pay.
  3. Equally, if there’s anything relating to tv licensing that stakeholders are unsure about or any specific issues please contact Wainwright@finncomms.com, or alternatively call the dedicated stakeholder helpline: 0300 790 6144

NHC Training Series with Abode

Building on the leadership and management training opportunities running over the course of the year, the NHC continues to partner with Abode – the home of education and training for the housing and community sectors, to offer three courses designed specifically for those on the frontline of housing management. Here, Abode training consultants Gill Bramfitt and Claire Harvey talk us through why, when it comes to the housing sector, now is the time to get back to basics.

Since it’s publication in August 2018 the Social Housing Green Paper has had a huge impact in focussing minds on the core features that make up the landlord-tenant relationship. While all social housing providers will have organisational ambitions and challenges that require bespoke responses, all agree it is more important than ever that their organisation is best placed to provide a home and a service resident can be proud of.  In practical terms that means rents are collected effectively, arrears kept to a minimum, voids turned around quickly, and repairs carried out efficiently.

If this wasn’t enough, Brexit uncertainties means housing management officers continue to face a fluid legislative landscape. This means not only having to make sense of policies before implementing them, but having to explain them to tenants and customers. Welfare Reform for example, has many implications for allocations, arrears and support staff, while the range of new tenancy types and the obligations placed on landlords can leave heads spinning.

It is vital that frontline staff have the knowledge and skills to tackle these potential obstacles. Organisations will know the importance of ensuring that legislation is interpreted correctly, policies comply with requirements and are less open to challenge, all without impacting on levels of customer satisfaction. Well-trained, knowledgeable employees will also have the confidence to implement these changes and deliver good quality services in an increasingly pressurised environment.

Working with the NHC, we have developed a range of courses to meet these needs. Delivered throughout May, these sessions will equip staff and supervisors with the knowledge and skills to meet current and future challenges.

Our first course, What you should know about… Social and Affordable Housing, delivers exactly that. Looking at the different types of housing organisations in the UK, the diverse range of services they provide, and the financial and regulatory environment in which they exist, this course is ideal for anyone looking to gain a background knowledge of affordable housing provision in this country.

Similarly, How to… Manage Tenancies is a primer for those wanting to ensure their knowledge of tenancy management is up to date and accurate.  Looking closely at recent legislative changes and the tenancy types they affect, this course will underline the responsibilities of landlords and tenants as well as discussing issues such as terminating tenancies and dealing with abandoned properties.

Finally, we have prepared our How to… Develop Policies and Procedures course with all those involved in the policy process in mind. This interactive half-day session will cover all stages of policy development from formulating policies and procedures, implementing them, and monitoring their effectiveness. This session will also look at the wider landscape of developing policy, from using data sources to inform strategies to knowing how and when to involve stakeholders.

Available to book now:

 What you should know about… Social and Affordable Housing

8 May 2019 – 9:30 – 16:30 – Yorkshire Housing, Call Lane Training Offices, Leeds

How to… Manage Tenancies

9 May 2019 – 9:30 – 16:30 – Yorkshire Housing, Call Lane Training Offices, Leeds

How to… Develop Policies and Procedures

20 May 2019 – 9:30 – 13:30 – Yorkshire Housing, Call Lane Training Offices, Leeds

Could tackling the empty homes epidemic help solve the housing crisis?

Lee Sugden, Chief Executive, Salix Homes and NHC Board member

At the last count, there were over 600,000 empty homes in England – that equates to two years’ worth of the Government’s targets for new home completions.

Of those, more than 200,000 are classed as long-term empty, in that they’ve stood empty for more than six months, and this represents around 1% of the total housing stock in the country.

At the time of a national housing crisis, surely common sense would say that a crucial tactic for tackling this growing crisis would be to make better use of this stock we’ve already got.

With more than a million people on housing waiting lists up and down the country, it’s a travesty that houses are stood empty in our communities.

Obviously, it’s not as simple as just moving people in, firstly we need to understand the reasons why a home may lie empty.

Properties may be empty because the owner is in hospital or moved into a care home, they could even be enjoying a stay at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

There can be any number of reasons why a home is empty at any particular point in time, but we can’t ignore the fact that a good proportion of these properties stand unused and neglected, and with a little investment, could be brought back into use to not only provide homes for those who need them, but to help regenerate our communities.

In some areas there is a great deal of work being done by local authorities, housing providers and private landlords to tackle empty homes and the success of such projects can be seen in Salford.

Ten years ago, there were over 3,000 empty homes in Salford – that figure now stands at just over 1,000, a reduction of almost 70% – or about 1% of the city’s housing stock. Nationally, long-term empty homes have only been reduced by half that, so Salford is certainly doing something right.

We work with our partners here to utilise the Government’s Empty Homes Scheme, which ran until 2016, and provides grants to gap-fund refurbishment work. The condition being that the landlord has to guarantee the homes would be let as affordable housing for a minimum of five years. We then let the homes via our ethical private lettings agency – Salix Living.

It’s win-win for all involved. More affordable homes available for people in housing-need, a guaranteed income for the homeowner and the blight of empty buildings gone from our communities. On many occasions, this additional supply of homes to the market place has given a roof over the head of someone at risk of homelessness – an outcome that gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

But it’s not just empty homes. In Salford we’ve set our targets on empty buildings in general, which have so far included shops, pubs and even an old job centre, which we’ve successfully transformed into housing.

And the success of such schemes is now capturing national interest, after Salix Homes was this month featured in a new BBC1 documentary series – The Empty Housing Scandal – presented by the tenacious Matt Allwright, of Watchdog and One Show fame.

The series shines a spotlight on Britain’s empty homes scandal, and we were incredibly proud to show Matt some of the work we are doing to turn the tide and transform these eyesore buildings into desperately needed affordable housing.

It’s a reflection of the times, but society has changed. High streets are in decline and last orders are being called at boozers up and down the country, leaving these once thriving community hubs deserted and neglected.

Repurposing these abandoned buildings, which are often in key central locations, is about more than providing much-needed homes, it’s also about tackling the effects these eyesore sites have on communities, where they are often a magnet for anti-social behaviour.

With a little investment and creative thinking, such projects are helping to breathe life back into our high streets, regenerate communities and crucially helping to tackle the housing crisis.

You can catch The Empty Housing Scandal on iPlayer and Salix Homes features in episodes three and four.

Government safety guidance on tall buildings

Advice was published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG)  on 18 December last year on ‘external wall systems that do not incorporate Aluminium Composite Material’ – in other words, buildings where the type of cladding used on the Grenfell Tower is not present. Despite this, MHCLG has advised that there are still a range of other materials and risks that pose a threat to buildings over 18m in height (tall buildings). Here we discuss the steps that RPs can take to ensure that they keep their buildings and their tenants safe.

Advice Note 14

The advice was produced by an independent panel of experts who laid out the decisions and steps that must be taken by the owners of buildings and a building’s ‘responsible person'(for buildings that fall within the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005)– the people who are ultimately responsible for ensuring that they and their residents remain safe from fire. The MHCLG’s panel is chaired by Sir Ken Knight, former London Fire Commissioner and former Government Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, and includes other esteemed experts such as Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council and Ann Bentley MBA MICE FRICS, Global Director of Rider Levett Bucknall.

Main recommendations:

  • Limited combustibility materials should be used in existing buildings UNLESS they have passed a BS 8414 test, gaining a BR135 classification
  • Check wall systems have been installed and maintained correctly
  • Obtain an up to date fire risk assessment (FRA) under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
  • A wall material with a Class 0 rating alone does not evidence a safe wall system

Only materials of ‘limited combustibility’ should be used on the external walls of tall buildings. There are particular classes of materials and tests that those materials must pass in order to meet this standard.

The Advice does emphasis that the safety checks can be carried out by competent professional advisors as well as building owners; so it may be prudent to defer to expert advice if there is any confusion about the materials used. The competency of such advisors, however, is not defined. This could leave RPs in a difficult position; essentially determining the competency of experts themselves when they are seeking to defer to a party with more knowledge than themselves. It is therefore recommended that RPs read the Government’s own information on where to find appropriate professional advisors contained here at Annex A.

Where desktop studies or technical assessments have been carried out by professionals on the likely performance of external wall systems, the building owner must still ensure that a check of the technical basis of such tests has been made. The assumptions should be based on established scientific and engineering principles and supported by reference to relevant BS 8414 fire test data.

Further regulation

The Government also decided in December that it would be implementing the entire suite of recommendations contained in the Hackitt Review. The Hackitt Review was led by Dame Judith Hackitt to provide recommendations to the regulatory system after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

This means that building owners could be liable for tougher sanctions if they are found to fall below safety standards. In light of this it is paramount that sufficient steps are taken, likely to involve taking advice from independent experts as discussed above.

Enforcement recommendations in the Hackitt review included the ability to serve Improvement/Correction Notices and Prohibition Notices on individuals or organisations responsible for buildings. Failing to comply with these notices within a particular time period will be a criminal offence.

Future recommendations are expected to come from the Industry Safety Steering Group, a panel made up of housing, construction and fire experts headed by Hackitt. The Group was established in January 2019 to hold the industry to account and accelerate change.

In summary, those responsible for tall buildings must ensure they have a clear knowledge of the building materials used, procure that checks are completed and that the walls are regularly maintained. RPs should regularly carry out FRAs and obtain professional advice where necessary to comply with the MHCLG advice and the law.

For example, Type 1 FRAs are carried out on common areas only. Type 3 FRAs ensure that common areas as well as a sample of the individual flats are checked for hazards. Although completing Type 3 FRAs as well as Type 1s is a helpful measure in and of itself, this physical presence in flats may also provide an extra level of reassurance for tenants.

The full range of the MHCLG Advice Notes can be found here.

Thirteen Launching County Durham Employment Routeways for Young People

Thirteen’s employability service has launched a new scheme to support young people aged 16-24 from County Durham into work (funded by DurhamWorks as part of the Youth Employment Initiative).

Over recent years Thirteen has extended its employability portfolio, delivering services for both tenants and the wider public.  Our support progressing individuals into work has provided many benefits to both communities and Thirteen in terms of social inclusion, health and wellbeing, financial stability and tenancy sustainment.

More recently Thirteen has commenced delivery of Routeways in both Hospitality and Customer Service, which provide a level two qualification and guaranteed interviews for live job vacancies with local employers.

Both Routeways are being delivered monthly in various localities across County Durham. Courses are initially scheduled to be delivered in central Durham and future delivery is likely to include Newton Aycliffe, Bishop Auckland, Chester le Street, Spennymoor and Stanley.  Delivery will also be expanded to other areas based upon need.

One of the first businesses to offer employment opportunities upon Routeway completion is the Radisson Blu hotel in Durham City.

Karen Kenmare, Senior Housing Related Support Manager, from Thirteen said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for young people in County Durham to gain valuable skills and a qualification that will stand them in good stead in the future.”

“The courses will give training and confidence, with a genuine job interview at the end.  Following the course young people will also be given intensive 1-1 support from Thirteen’s employability service to help progress them into work.”

“It’s important that local and national companies invest in the career prospects of our young people and we’re pleased that the Radisson Blu is working with us to offer potential roles for willing and enthusiastic candidates.”

Shirlynn Lim, General Manager from Raddison Blu, said: “The culture of our business worldwide is to provide meaningful employment, develop our team’s talents and increase young people’s employability and that is why we are pleased to be working with Thirteen on this important project.

“We are very much looking forward to meeting the young people who complete the course and who, hopefully, may become valued members of our team in the future.”

Places on Thirteen’s Customer Service and Hospitality Routeway courses can be booked via:

Telephone:      07789 923490 / 07876 006086

Facebook:       ThirteenGroup

Website:          www.thirteengroup.co.uk/durhamrouteways

Email:              durham-routeways@thirteengroup.co.uk